Copyright 2001 Boston Herald Inc. The Boston
May 21, 2001 Monday ALL EDITIONS
SECTION: FINANCE; Pg. 029
LENGTH: 601 words
CAPITAL FOCUS; FCC head shows moderation, sense
BYLINE: By Ted Bunker
BODY: Conservatives and liberals alike might have been surprised to hear FCC
Chairman Michael Powell voice heartfelt support for the e-rate program and
broader universal service subsidies.
Powell has made no secret of his market-friendly sentiments on a number of
issues, from broadcast media ownership limits to ways of forcing open
But on Thursday, Powell judged
the program aimed at providing low-cost Internet access to schools, libraries
and other nonprofit institutions "an extraordinary success."
Powell measured that success by noting that 95 percent of all American
schools, and 63 percent of all their classrooms, now have Internet access. His
comments came at a Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination as Federal
Communications Commission chairman.
"I think it's fair
to say that the e-rate program was a substantial engine that fueled that
development," he told Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.). Carnahan was among several
senators who questioned Powell's support for continuing the $ 2.5 billion-a-year
A move by the White House to put some teacher
training costs and other items under the e-rate program - financed by a charge
on consumer phone bills - gave rise to concern. Powell said when it comes to
setting policy of that sort, he would defer to Congress and the president.
On other issues, including questions about media
concentration and diversity, Powell also gave more moderate answers than
expected, judging by the tone of some questions.
concerns me is if I look at all of your inclinations in terms of what I've seen
in print, on your watch we could perhaps have the most radical consolidation of
media ownership in the country's history," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
While suporting the goals of limiting media ownership
concentration, and of maintaining a diversity of media voices, Powell pointed
out that some related rules may be hopelessly out of date.
"Maybe these rules will be validated in the context of a fulsome
examination of the current media marketplace," Powell said. "I'll say publicly,
if that case can be demonstrated . . . and if the rule continues to serve that
purpose, then it will be maintained."
One such rule
Powell has publicly questioned prevents a broadcaster or newspaper owner from
owning both sorts of media in the same community - called the cross-ownership
ban. It has been assailed as a violation of First Amendment rights.
Noting a congressional mandate to review ownership
restrictions every two years, Powell told Wyden that the courts have eroded
those rules in the absence of FCC action. Congress mandated the biennial reviews
in 1996, but so far the FCC has put off taking up the 1970s-era ban.
The ban has undermined some major newspapers. It has been
blamed for shutting down the Washington Star and threatens to force the sale or
shutdown of the New York Post as its owner, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., seeks
to buy a second VHF television station serving New York.
Murdoch, who won a waiver to let him buy the Post without selling the
Fox network's Channel 5, has indicated that the Post's rocky finances would make
it unlikely to survive on its own. And he has argued that he couldn't get a fair
price for it.
New York, like Boston, is one of a few
remaining cities in America with more than one daily newspaper. In the past
decade, however, as UHF and cable-only TV took hold, New York lost one daily,
New York Newsday. Now another of its remaining three papers could fold - a
disaster Powell and his FCC should prevent.